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Marci Chavez said she learned from her mother that children must feel safe, loved and nurtured.
Chavez improves school culture with positivity
June 13, 2022
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Marci Chavez Award: Secondary Co-Administrator of the Year Title: Acting Principal, Nelson Elementary, Hacienda La Puente USD ACSA highlights: Member since 2012; president, Hacienda La Puente Admin. Assn
When she arrived at Nelson Elementary in July 2021, acting principal Marci Chavez had only a month to reopen newly modernized classrooms for teachers at the school. As acting principal, she welcomed the challenge to help teachers prepare to resume in-person instruction on the campus post-pandemic. This was only one of her many tasks she had to undertake.
Chavez arrived in a school community that reported low morale and a lack of support. She made it her goal to revitalize the campus by creating a new, positive school culture for both students and staff. Chavez established a Student of the Month assembly to recognize students for their academic and behavioral successes, raised funds to create a “calming room” for them to relieve their stress and organized both a shoe drive and a sock drive. Close to 300 students received new shoes and 800 socks were donated.
Now, after earning strong support from her students, teachers and administrative colleagues, Chavez is the permanent principal of Nelson Elementary.
“With a strong focus on school culture, her school recently won the city’s Choice Award for an entry in a city event,” said Hacienda La Puente Superintendent Alfonso Jiménez. “Such has been the transformational change on her campus that the mayor of the city of La Puente visited the school recently to learn what was happening on campus.”
The district’s Elementary Education Executive Director Angela Lin said Chavez has been a “tremendous asset” to its leadership team.
“In only a few weeks, she has highlighted her belief in the importance of developing relationships, trust and empathy through ensuring sound operational practices and instituting new traditions,” Lin said.
What’s your favorite book or quote on leadership? My favorite quote on leadership is by Rita Pierson: “Build a legacy of relationships that never disappears.” I have a passion to support all students, families and their communities. My approach does not dwell on circumstances that I cannot control in my school community, such as low socio-economic status, trauma, single family households, foster youth and incarcerated parents. Rather, I focus on empowerment, growth and self-advocacy for not only the students at my school but with their families and guardians. The way that I do this is by prioritizing relationships and maintaining a positive school culture for all stakeholders.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? The best advice I have ever been given was by my parents. Growing up, they would always say “reach for the stars.” In their eyes, all of my life goals were attainable if I put heart and hard work into the goals. At times, I questioned myself and my ability to succeed, but their love and support never wavered. I am forever grateful to have such a strong support system and I know it is my life calling to support others in the very same way.
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? I intentionally put my family and health first and model this with my staff and school community. My students, staff, parents and community look up to me. I must be a positive example of prioritizing mental and physical health, as well as taking time off to be with my young family. At the end of the day, the work will always be there. But the family moments, gatherings, dinners, vacations and time spent with loved ones will not.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? I tend to lose items. Anyone who knows me knows that I am so busy that on a regular basis I lose my phone, my AirPods, my car keys … you name it! The funny thing is that I always find them (or someone quickly finds them for me!). An administrator hack of mine is purchasing a cell phone carrier called The Bandolier. The carrier holds my cell phone on a strap (similar to a purse) and it never leaves my side!
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am a “California State Park” kid. What does this mean? My father worked as a California State Park Ranger for 30 years. He began his career as an 18-year-old park ranger, and throughout his career he was promoted to be the District Superintendent of California State Parks. Every time my father would get promoted, my family had to relocate to a new State Park. The State Parks I lived at included Donner State Park, San Juan Bautista Mission, La Purisima Mission and El Capitan State Beach.
I am so grateful for this lifetime opportunity. I experienced so many beautiful family adventures and gained the ability to adapt quickly to any environment. For me, change means growth, and growing is part of leading a fulfilling life.
What made you want to become a school administrator? Family is the heart of what I do on a daily basis. I come from a family that holds morals and integrity to the highest standard. Growing up, my brother, sister and I were always encouraged to follow our dreams and help others. My mother taught me that children must feel safe, loved and nurtured. My father demonstrated at a very young age that your word and character is the foundation to building trust and relationships. I took my strong family values into my career as a teacher. By carefully analyzing the effort, sincerity and humility my role models displayed, I knew that I wanted to be an agent of inspiration and change for my colleagues one day.
What is your proudest accomplishment? I am most proud of having a family of my own. My husband Arthur is such a great father to my children and a supportive partner. He knows that education is truly a family commitment. I spend long hours at school, nights at school events and weekends at conferences. The best part of me working so many hours is knowing that my children are safe and happy at home or at sports practice with their dad. In addition, I am so proud of my three beautiful boys. They have kind souls and they treat me like a queen. I am honored to have such a blessed personal and professional life.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? ACSA has allowed me to become a more confident leader. Every ACSA event I attend verifies that my heart is in the right place. Educators are amazing people with brilliant minds. Together, we are only stronger and ACSA events allow great minds to come together to grow, reflect and improve.
What new strategies are you using to ensure student success in the post-“return to school” period? This year, I committed to be a resource for all stakeholders by providing necessary tools to support students and their family’s mental health. This year, I have referred back to the foundational teaching and leading skills of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I created a GoFundMe account to successfully raise funds for a “calming” room. A calming room is a quiet, safe, low-stimulation place where students can go to relax, de-escalate and relieve stress. In addition to the calming room, I also fundraised for hygiene supplies, food and clothing that is stocked in the calming room for families in need. My community knows that I sincerely care about their basic needs, as it is foundational for students to thrive in their learning environment.
Chavez is the ACSA Co-Administrator Chair for Region 15.